I'm determined to get caught up on my reviews, even if it means making them a little shorter and combining them together. So here I go with three recent reads: one that I read with Aaron, another that I read aloud to the boys, and another that I listened to by myself.
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
So far this year, Aaron and I have read a nonfiction book about WWI, a
graphic novel, a fictional story set in current times, a fantasy, and
now, a modern classic.
Although published in 1975, Tuck Everlasting takes place in 1881. Winnie Foster imagines what life might
be like beyond her white picket fence, and one day she gets her wish,
although it's not anything like what she imagines. She meets the Tuck
family in the woods that borders her home. Every ten years they come
back to this spot, to a hidden spring that burbles from a large tree.
When Winnie attempts to drink some of the water, they adamantly
discourage her, and they're forced to tell her the reason why: they
drank from that spring eighty-seven years ago . . . and they haven't
aged a day since.
Aaron is such an easy going kid and will read pretty much anything I hand to him without complaint. Because of that, we've really been able to explore a variety of genres together, and I've been able to get a little better feel for his reading tastes. Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes was definitely his favorite out of the group I mentioned above (and he has since read the sequel and branched into other fantasy series on his own), and Tuck Everlasting, I'm sorry to say, was probably his least favorite.
I wasn't expecting that. After all, it's short, introduces interesting characters, and has a totally unique premise. The length was definitely a blessing. But in retrospect, although I found the characters interesting, they weren't actually very relatable to an eight-year-old boy. Winnie is the only child in the story; the others are all adults and kind of old-fashioned adults at that. And then, those deep, moral questions, which I found so fascinating and thought-provoking, actually didn't interest Aaron very much at all. There's a big difference between how you view your own mortality when you're eight versus thirty-one, and at this stage in his life, it probably already feels like he's going to live forever, so he doesn't need a magic fountain to help him out (Aaron didn't actually tell me any of this--I'm making my own inferences based on his reaction).
The book picked up a little for him at the end: clubbing someone over the head, going to jail, and then busting out went a long way to perk up his attention, but I don't think it made the story rocket to the top of his favorites list by any means. Although technically middle-grade, this is a story that definitely seems to grow in depth and meaning with age, so hopefully he'll revisit it when he's a little older.
Ribsy by Beverly Cleary
Oh, this is bittersweet. So, so bittersweet. We read Henry Huggins over three years ago and have slowly, one perfect book at a time, worked our way through the series, ending with this final installment. Since I never read this series as a child, each book, each adventure, each funny little mishap has been new for me as well, and I have treasured, absolutely treasured, reading these books with my boys. Anytime we've been in a readaloud rut or just finished a really long book, we've turned to Henry for some reprieve, and he's always been exactly the sort of pick-me-up we needed. I don't know what we'll do without him to fall back on.
This one is slightly different than the other ones in the series because Ribsy, always a lively character, takes center stage when he gets lost on a rainy Saturday in the mall parking lot. Each chapter finds him in a new place (with a large family, with a sweet old woman, with a lonely little boy). Everyone can't help but like Ribsy--he's such an agreeable dog--but he is desperate to get home to Henry, and Henry, on the other side, is desperate to find him.
Somehow Beverly Cleary always knows how to make things come full circle, and the end of this series is no exception. You might remember that Henry found and adopted Ribsy in the very first book, and the climax of that particular story happened when Ribsy's previous owner turned up and wanted him back. The boys let Ribsy choose, and Ribsy chose Henry.
But a part of me has always wondered, Did Ribsy really like Henry more than that other boy, or had he just gotten used to the new kid who fed him and played with him? This book is the answer to that question because, again and again, Ribsy is given the chance to forget about Henry and get settled into a new home (he finds many good ones to choose from), but he won't do it. In spite of food, shelter, and friendship, he wants his boy. The truth is, he really does love Henry best.
My only consolation with this series ending is that at least we still have three Ramona books left, and we like her just as much as Henry (that, and we can always reread, which is its own kind of delight).
Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
At the beginning of this year, I made the goal to read a book by Louisa May Alcott. It was one of my more specific reading goals for sure, but it came about because Little Men was one of the best books I read last year, and so exploring more of Louisa May Alcott's works was a high priority for me. After a lot debating back and forth, I decided to leave Jo and her boys for awhile and meet some new characters, and they did not disappoint.
When 12-year-old Rose Campbell is orphaned, she is welcomed into her large and close-knit extended family. Her chief guardian is Uncle Alec, but they live with her two elderly aunts and are surrounded on all sides by more aunts and uncles and eight boisterous cousins (all boys). At first Rose, who is somewhat sickly, is overwhelmed, but Uncle Alec soon gets some color back into her cheeks and strength back into her bones as he encourages a healthy appetite, lots of outdoor activities, and plenty of hands-on experiences. Even though her cousins are wild and obnoxious, they are also surprisingly sweet and absolutely adore Rose. Luckily, she uses her power and influence over them for good, and along with Uncle Alec's parenting methods, which are rather unorthodox for the times, she blossoms into a lovely young woman.
Some parts of this story are charmingly old-fashioned (and you can't help but be aware that it was published in 1874), but then there are other little gems scattered here and there that are surprisingly current and ahead of their times. There was one scene where Rose is wearing a tight belt around her little waist, and Uncle Alec insists that she loosen it so that she can breathe deeply and fill it out with a nice, healthy figure. He says: "If you dear little girls would only learn what real beauty is and not pinch and starve and bleach yourselves out so, you'd save an immense deal of time and money and pain. A happy soul in a healthy body makes the best sort of beauty for man or woman." Such wise advice, but something I sometimes struggle to remember myself and that many little girls are getting mixed messages of today.
If you can't already tell from the above quote, Uncle Alec is an all-around wonderful character and probably my favorite one in the book. He is adored and deeply respected by everyone, is experienced and intelligent, and is just so incredibly kind. No mention is ever made about a love interest, but I just wondered again and again how he couldn't be married. And yet, I think one of the reasons he was such a perfect guardian for Rose was because he was single. There was a quote in the book that I just loved, and this was it: "Fatherly and motherly hearts often beat warm and wise in the breasts of bachelor uncles and maiden aunts, and it is my private opinion that these worthy creatures are a beautiful provision of nature, for the cherishing of other people's children." I believe that, and as much as I want my younger siblings to find the person of their dreams and get married, there's a part of me that wishes they would just stay single so that they'll continue to love and adore my children.
Speaking of Rose's uncle and the rest of her family though, there was one thing about the story that I didn't really understand: for being such a sweet and close family, how could it be that Rose didn't really know any of them until after her father died? There isn't ever a hint of a falling out or any other type of quarrel that would have kept them apart, and yet, Rose doesn't seem to know any of her aunts, uncles, or cousins until she comes to live on Aunt Hill.
I'm so glad I had the goal this year to read something else by Louisa May Alcott. I think, just because of my love of Little Women, I always would have counted her among my favorite authors, but now I'm getting a much better feel for her books, and consequently, I love her even more. It's interesting because I think many people would think of her as an author who writes about little girls (because Little Women is her most well-known work), but now that I've read a couple more of her books, I would say that little boys factor into her writing very prominently. It's obvious from the way she writes about them that she loves little boys, and I feel a deep kinship with her because of that.
Without meaning to, I kind of put three classic children's authors into the same post! I'd love to hear your thoughts about and experiences with them and their books.